Let’s just make it clear that I’m not a born fisherman, wrapped in kelp straight from my mother’s womb and raised on the rocks by selkies. Because all my brothers and my sister had rods at a young age, I was born with a hand-me-down rod that I could have grasped tight as a toddler. But I was pretty slow getting myself hooked. Shrimping and catching cockabullies aside, fishing never figured much in my life till Dad took me and Mum on a boat fishing trip when I was a fairly young teenager. Their intention for taking a young (and probably annoying) teen out fishing may have been to drown me, but it turned into one of the most memorable days from the sunset of my childhood. And I caught my first tarakihi.
Straining our way up the Kaimais in our gutless, little Nissan Pulsar, I had no idea what awaited me once we descended into Tauranga, but I probably imagined it involved hours of boredom and a total lack of music and television. Today that would be the same as taking a boy out and telling him to leave his phone behind: “Oh no, that means I will surely die…” Surprised to find I was not actually powered by invisible, electrical beam energy that emanated from the TV or my Walkman (this is the late 80s), I also found myself completely immersed in the whole experience of fishing. It was a revelation.
Our fishing boat set out from the port of Tauranga with about 20 brave souls aboard and chugged its way out to sea. I don’t remember anything about that part of the trip, so I was probably not particularly enamoured of fishing at that point. But once we dropped lines and the fish began biting, everything changed.
Suddenly I was hauling fish up every few minutes. Tarakihi, trevally, snapper – I was like some kind of spotty adolescent Pied Piper of fish. But it wasn’t just me; everybody aboard had become the fishermen of Jesus, hooking fish after fish in seemingly endless succession. And suddenly fishing felt… exhilarating. We were out for hours, but it seemed like a combination of being forever and for just a moment, as it does when you’re engrossed in something. As if I had always been doing this and would happily always be doing it, and yet that boat was heading back for the port well before sunset and the time had simply raced away. I had so much fun.
There were still quotas in those days, so we hadn’t really caught hundreds of fish each. But I know between the three of us we filled a couple of small sacks. However, the time spent enjoying fishing isn’t all about the constant thrill of pulling another one in. There’s a rhythm to it and a process: check sinker and hook knots, bait hook, cast/drop, wait, biting, waiting, strike, reel, play/spool (if it’s big enough), reel, raise rod, reel, raise fish, land fish, stun fish, remove hook, start again. It all just flows and, like a kind of meditation, it demands your attention and involvement. And the waiting is a part of that. Not too much waiting though! I guess the involved nature of the experience is what I love about fishing. It’s what turned that fishing trip into a legend of my youth and one of the best memories of doing stuff with my Dad, who passed away this year, so this memory is particularly poignant.
That night I ate pan-fried tarakihi I had caught that day. Which is a pretty neat result of a day away from the bosom of our urgently connected world. And delicious as well.